Chapter 3. The Superior Races

In regard to the extreme races (the gods and souls) the former is chief, superior and perfect; the other is inferior and imperfect. The former can do all things at once uniformly and now; but the other is neither able to do anything completely nor immediately; neither speedily nor individually. The former generates all things and is guardian over them; but the latter has a natural disposition to yield and to turn submissively toward what it generates and has under guardianship. The former, being the original cause, has preeminence over all; but the latter, being dependent upon the pleasure of the gods as from a cause, is coexistent with it from eternity. The former in a single decisive moment grasps the ends of all the energies and essences; but the latter passes from some things to others and goes forward from the imperfect to the perfect. Further still, there exists with the former the highest and unlimited, superior to all measurement, and so completely formless as to be circumscribed by no formative principles; but the latter is dominated by impulse, habit and inclination, and is held fast both by longings for that which-is inferior and by being familiar with things of a secondary character. At length it is moulded in various ways and proportions from them. Hence MIND, the leader and king of the things that actually are, the demiurgic art of the universe, is always present with the gods in the same manner, completely and abundantly, being established in itself unalloyed according to one sole energy. But the soul partakes of divisible and multiform mind, <sup>1</sup> adapting itself to the supreme authority over all. It also takes care of unsouled beings, having been itself born into various forms at different times. From the same causes, order itself and beauty itself are coexistent with the Superior races; or if it is desired so to express it, the First cause is coexistent with these. But with the soul the allotment of intellective order and divine beauty is always associated. With the gods, the measure of all things, or rather the cause of it, is perpetually coordinate; but the soul is confined to the divine limit and only participates of this in a limited degree. With good reason there may be ascribed to the gods dominion over all beings, by the power and supreme authority of the First Cause; but the soul has defined limits within which it can have command.

Such being the different peculiarities of the races at the highest and lowest extremes, what we have now been saying may be understood without difficulty, and also the peculiarities of the intermediates, the demons and half-gods; these being each next to one of the extremes, resembling both and going out from both to the intermediate region, and so effecting a harmonious union by commingling them and joining them together in due proportions.

Let such, then, be considered the peculiarities of the first divine races.

Surely we do not admit the distinction of the Superior races to be what is suggested by thee: “a classification established by difference of bodies, the gods being distinguished by ætherial bodies, the demons by aërial bodies, and souls by bodies pertaining to the earth.” Such an arrangement would be like the assigning of Sokrates to a tribe when he was a Prytanis, <sup>2</sup> and is not proper to be admitted in regard to the divine races, which are all by themselves, unbound and free. <sup>3</sup> To make bodies their own first causes, as to their specific nature, appears to be a fearful absurdity; for they are subservient to these causes and subject to the conditions of generated existence.

Further still, the races of Superior beings are not in the bodies, but govern them from outside. Hence they do not undergo changes with the bodies. Yet they give from themselves to the bodies every such good as the latter are able to receive, but they themselves receive nothing from the bodies. Hence they cannot have received from them any peculiarities. For if they were as habits of the bodies, or as material forms, or some other body-like quality, it might be possible for them, perhaps, to undergo change together with the different conditions of the bodies. But if they preexist separate from bodies, and unmingled with them, what rational distinction originating from the bodies can be developed in them?

In fact, this proposition in regard to these races makes the bodies actually superior to the divine races, since by such a hypothesis they furnish a vehicle for the superior causes and fix in them the peculiarities incident to their essence. Nevertheless, it is plain that if the allotments, distributions and assignments of those that govern are arranged with those that are governed this authority will be given to the more excellent. For it is because those that are placed over others are such that they receive thereby such an allotment, and give this a specific character; but the essence itself does not become assimilated to the nature of the corporeal receptacle. <sup>4</sup>

Hence I may speak as regards this subject in its turn, but a supposition of this kind must be admitted in respect to the imperfect soul. For such a mode of living as the soul projected, and such an ideal as was ready before entering into a human body, there is a corresponding organic body, joined to it and a similar nature which receives its more perfect life. <sup>5</sup>

In respect to the superior races and those which as being universal include the origin of all, the inferior ones are produced in the superiors, the corporeal in the incorporeal, and, being encompassed by them in one circle, are governed by them. Hence the revolutions of the heavenly spheres <sup>6</sup> have been induced originally by the aetherial soul and are always inherent in it. The souls of the world also being extended to their own mind, are absolutely encompassed by it and primarily generated in it. In like manner also, the Mind, both that which is divisible (into attributes and qualities) and that which is entire, is included (as essential quality) of the superior races. Hence the secondary races, being always turned toward the primary, and the superiors leading the inferiors as exemplars, essence and ideal come to the lower races from those which are superior, and those which are ignoble are produced primarily in the more excellent. Hence, accordingly, order and proportion come from the latter to the inferior races, and these are what they are through the former. But there is no transmitting of peculiarities from the inferior races to those which precede them.

Such a classification, therefore, based on corporeal conceptions, is shown by these arguments to be false. Even though in this case it may seem otherwise to thee, the false assumption is not worthy of a word. Such a case does not exhibit abundant argument, but one belabors himself to no purpose if he puts forth hypotheses and then endeavors to refute them as not being true. For in what way is essence, which is absolutely incorporeal, having nothing in common with the bodies that partake of it, to be distinguished from such bodies? Not being in any way present with the bodies as a matter of place, how is it to be separated by places after the corporeal manner? And not being separated by circumscribed divisions of subject matter, how is it to be held in a divided condition by the divisions of the world? But what is more, what is there that can hinder the gods from going everywhere? What is there to hold their power in check, from extending to the vault of the sky? For this would be the work of a cause far mightier than the one shutting them in and circumscribing them within certain parts. Real being – that which truly is, and which is in itself incorporeal – is everywhere, wherever it pleases. Yet, as thou takest for granted, that which is divine and which transcends all things is itself transcended by the perfectness of the entire world, and is encompassed by it in a specific division, and hence is inferior in respect to bodily dimensions. Yet if there is no divine creation and no participation of divine ideals extending through the whole world, I do not see, for my part, any opportunity for a creating and framing of them after specific forms.

In short, however, this opinion which banishes the presence of the superior races entirely from the earth is an abrogating of the Sacred Rites and theurgic communion of the gods with human beings. For it says nothing else than that the divine ones dwell apart from the earth, that they do not commingle with human beings, and that this region is deserted by them. Consequently, according to this reasoning we priests have never learned anything whatever from the gods, and since we differ in nothing from other men thou hast not done right in questioning us as though we knew more than others.

Not one of these statements of thine, however, is sound. For neither are the gods limited to parts of the earth, nor are the inferior races about the earth excluded from their presence. On the contrary, the superior races are characterized in this way: that they are encompassed by nothing and that they encompass all things in themselves. But those that belong to the earth have their being in the perfections (pleromas) of the gods, and when they become fit for the divine communion they at once, prior to their own essence, possess the gods that preexisted in it.

That this entire classification is false, that this plan of investigating peculiarities is irrational, and that the notion of distributing the gods each to a certain region does not permit the receiving of the entire essence and power which are in them, we have fully established. It would have been right, therefore, to omit the dissenting inquiry in regard to the distribution of the Superior races, as it contradicts nothing in regard to the true conceptions. On the other hand, our attention should be directed, instead, to the intelligent perception of matters relating to the gods, and not to the holding of a discussion with a man; and for this reason we shall adapt the present discourse to the disposing of subjects of probability and matters relating to the gods.

I assume accordingly that thou askest a solution of that matter of which thou seemest to be in doubt, namely: “As the gods dwell only in Heaven, why are invocations at the Theurgic rites directed to them as being of the Earth and Underworld?”

This position which is thus assumed at the beginning, namely: that the gods traverse heaven only, is not true; for the universe is full of them. But thou then demandest: “How is it that although possessing power unlimited, undivided, and unrestricted, some of them are mentioned as being of the water and of the atmosphere, and that others are allotted by definite limitation to different places and distinct parts of bodies? If they are actually separated by circumscribed limitations of parts, and according to diversities of places and subject-bodies, how will there be any union of them one to another?”

One most excellent solution of all these and an infinite number of similar questions is by a survey of the manner in which the gods are allotted.

This, then, is the explanation: Whether the allotment be to certain parts of the universe, as to heaven or earth, whether to holy cities and regions, whether to certain temple-precincts or sacred images, the divine irradiation shines upon them all from the outside, just as the sun illuminates every object from without with his rays. Hence, as the light encompasses the objects that it illuminates, so also the power of the gods comprehends from without those that participate of it. In like manner, also, as the light of the sun is present in the air without being combined with it – and it is evident that there is nothing left in the air when the illuminating agent is removed, although warmth is still present when the heating has entirely ceased – so also the light of the gods shines while entirely separate from the objects illuminated, and, being firmly established in itself, makes its way through all existing things.

Still further, the light that is the object of perception is one, continuous, and everywhere the same entirety; so that it is not possible for a part of it to be cut off by itself, or to be enclosed in a circle, or at any time to remove itself from the source of illumination. According to the same principles, therefore, the whole universe, being susceptible of division, is distinguished with reference to the one and indivisible light of the gods. In short, this light is one and the same everywhere, and is not only present, undivided, with all things that are capable of participating of it, but it, likewise, by an absolute power and by an infinite superiority, fills all things, as a cause, joins them together in itself, unites them everywhere with itself, and combines the ends with the beginnings. The whole heaven, including with it the universe imitating this, goes around in a circular revolution, unites all to itself, and leads the elements whirling in a circle; and all things being in one another, and borne toward one another, it holds them together and defines their equal proportions; and guiding them to the remotest distances, makes the ends combine with the beginnings – as, for example, the earth with the sky – and effects a sole connection and accord of wholes with wholes.

Who, then, that contemplates the visible image of the gods thus united as one <sup>7</sup> will not have too much reverence for the gods, its causes, to entertain a different judgment and to introduce among them artificial divisions, arbitrary distinctions, and corporeal outlines? I, for one, do not think that any one would be so disposed. For if there is neither any analogy, nor scheme of proportion, nor interblending in respect to power or simple energy of that which is set in order with that which sets in order, <sup>8</sup> then I say that there is nothing existing in it, either of extension or in regard to distance, or of encompassing locally, or of division by due setting apart, or of any other such natural equalizing of qualities in the presence of the gods with beings inferior in their nature. For in natures that are homogeneous in essence and power, or that are in some manner of similar form or alike in race, there can be perceived an encompassing or holding fast. But in the case of those that are totally exempt from all these conditions, what opposing circumstance in respect to these things, or pathways through them all, or separate outline, or encompassing in some prescribed space, or anything of this kind, can be justly conceived? On the other hand, I think that they who are partakers of the gods <sup>9</sup> are, every one, of such a nature as to partake of them according to their own intrinsic quality, some as of the other, others as of the atmosphere, and others as of the water; which the technique of the Divine Performances recognizes, <sup>10</sup> and so makes use of the adaptations and invocations according to such a classification.

So much may be stated in regard to the distribution of the superior races in the world.

After these distinctions thou suggestest another classification on thy own account, and separatest the essences of the superior races by the differentiation of “passive and impassible.” I do not, however, by any means accept this classification. For no one of the superior races is passive, nor yet is it impassible in such a manner as to be thus contradistinguished from any that is susceptible, as being adapted by nature to receive impressions, or as freed from them through inherent virtue or some other excellent condition. On the other hand, it is on this account, because they are entirely exempt from the inconsistency of being either passive or not passive, because they are in no way susceptible to impression, and because they are unchangeably fixed in regard to essence, that I set them down in all these respects as impassive and unchangeable.

Consider, if thou art willing, the last one of the divine races, the soul pure from the defilement of bodies. Being superior to the realm of nature, and living the unbegotten life, what does it want of the generated life with sensual pleasure and of the restoration thereby into the realm of nature? <sup>11</sup> Being outside of everything corporeal, and of the nature which is divisible in respect to the body, and being likewise entirely separate from the accord in the Soul which goes down into the body, why is it to participate of the pain that leads to decay and dissolution of the structure of the body? On the contrary, it has no occasion for the susceptibilities which are forerunners of sensation, for it is neither held at all in a body nor in any way environed by it so as to have occasion for bodily organs in order to perceive different bodies outside of these organs. In short, however, being indivisible, remaining in the one same form, being essentially incorporeal, and having nothing in common with the generating and susceptible body, it can be affected by nothing in regard to classification or transformation, nor in short has it any concern whatever with change or condition.

But on the other hand, whenever the soul comes into the body it is not itself, nor are the rational faculties which it imparts to the body susceptible to impression. <sup>12</sup> For these are simple and single ideals, not admitting any disturbing element or entrancement, so far as relates to them. It is, therefore, the something that yet remains that is the cause of such experience to the composite nature. Nevertheless, the cause is not in any way the same as the effect. <sup>13</sup> Hence, the Soul being the first genesis and origin of the composite living beings that come into existence and pass to dissolution, is itself, so far as relates to itself, unbegotten and imperishable; so also those that participate of the soul are susceptible to impression and do not possess life and essence in their completeness, but are entangled in the indefiniteness and alien conditions of the realm of matter. 14 Yet the soul, as relates to itself, is unchangeable, as being in its own essence superior to impression, and as neither being moved by any preference inclining in both directions (passiveness and impassibility), nor as receiving an acquired versatility in the participating of habitude and power.

Since, therefore, we have shown, in respect to the last race of the superior orders, namely, the soul, that it is impossible for it to participate in any passive or impressionable condition, how is it proper to attribute this participation to demons and half-gods who are sempiternal and follow the gods, and themselves according to their respective grades preserve, and likewise in their several places make the regular arrangement of the divine beings always complete, and do not leave any unoccupied space between the different orders? For this we know for certain: that the passive condition is not only undisciplined but also discordant and unstable, never being in any case its own master, but attached to that by which it is held fast and to which it is subservient in reference to the sphere of generated existence. This condition of passiveness, therefore, pertains to some other race rather than to one always existing and allied to the gods, not only maintaining the same arrangement but likewise going around the same circuit with them. Hence, therefore, the demons, and all who rank with them after the superior races, are impassible.


Chapter 3. The Superior Races1. The Chaldaean Oracles also recognize this twofold mind. The one, the Pure Reason or Intelligence, was placed over the first Triad. “The Mind of the Father named all things in threes, and governed them all by Mind.” This mind they considered as sole, unparticipating, and essential. The other was described as participant and divisible into parts or qualities.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races2. The Prytanis of Athens were fifty in number, and were selected from the Boulé or Senate. Sokrates, at the age of sixty, was chosen to that dignity.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races3. The Chaldaean Theology did not unequivocally describe all the gods as “unbound.” The seven cosmokrators, or rulers of the world, the lords of the zodiacal houses and the cosmic gods assigned to regions of the world, were bound to their respective jurisdictions.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races4. The pre-existence of the soul in the eternal world, before becoming involved in the genesis and conditions of the earth-life, was generally believed. Even after being set free at death, it was supposed to be, after a period of less or greater length, again attracted back to the mundane sphere. Plato illustrates this by the Vision of Eros in the Republic. The choice of the earthly condition is made by the soul itself, and very generally it differs from what it had been in the preceding term of life in the world. “The cause is in him who makes the choice, and the divinity is without blame in the matter.” Eros adds that after the souls had chosen their new lives according as they drew the lots, they all went in their order to Lachesis, and she gave to every one the demon that he had chosen, and sent the demon along with him to be the guardian genius of his life, and the accomplisher of the fate which he had chosen. Then he was born anew into the earth.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races5. The cause or incentive for the coming of the soul into generated life is variously explained by different writers. According to Plotinus, the universal soul does not come to a body as the body may come to it, nor does the body contain the soul, but is contained by it. Simplikios accepted the statement of Iamblichos, that “the soul projects certain lives for itself.”

Chapter 3. The Superior Races6. The stars and planets were regarded as abodes or receptacles of souls.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races7. Plato affirms this in the Epinomis. “It is Heaven that we should honor,” says he; “it is the cause of all benefits to us.” Abammon, doubtless, alludes to Ra, of the Egyptian Pantheon, who was regarded as the source of light, and also as being the whole heaven united as one eikon and personality.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races8. Proklos reiterates this declaration, so often insisted upon, that the superior nature and essence can receive nothing from one that is inferior.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races9. Intelligent readers will understand from what has been said, that as the gods are spiritual essences, the partaking of them, or, in other words, of their irradiation, is analogous to the partaking of light. The luminance itself is in no way affected, but the partaker is filled and pervaded by it.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races10. This is the Theurgic Rite. “This Theurgy,” says Thomas Taylor, “is, doubtless, the same as the 'Magic of Zoroaster,' which was no 'Black art,' but a peculiar mode of worship.”

Chapter 3. The Superior Races11. The soul was called by Damaskios, our last echo of Divinity. In the mundane region it was considered as not a whole and united essence, but as divided into qualities and traits of character.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races12. Plotinus, using the comparison that the workman does not contract the imperfections of his tools, remarks that it is not necessary that the soul shall be itself affected by the conditions of the body. It simply uses the body as its instrument: It is incorporeal, and hence the passions and susceptibilities of the body do not penetrate into its substance, but only into its powers and energies.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races13. Proklos illustrates this by the analogy of a man viewing his own image in a stream of water. He is unchanged in his own person and individuality, but the image exhibits great perturbation. So the soul contemplates its own image as reflected in the body, and though it is itself impassible and unaffected, it may be perplexed by the incidental disturbances.

Chapter 3. The Superior Races14. Greek, ulg, wood, rubbish; the negative or inert quality called matter, from which natural objects proceed. Aristotle first adopted the term. Plato, unable to conceive of matter as substance per se, made use of terms signifying the “nurse” and the “receptacle” or passive force. The term “matter” is from materia, the mother-principle. The phrase “realm of matter” is adopted here, as the term implies a department in the universe, and not simply matter itself.